Georg Lukács didn't like modernism very much. Of course, he didn't like expressionism or avant-garde art either (generally for the same reasons). Most of his arguments against modernism boiled down to this: while realism is capable of representing socioeconomic totality, modernism isn't. Modernist literature is too self-involved—too subjective and inward looking and formally experimental—to represent objective reality. And therefore it can't be politically meaningful or effective. As he wrote in “Realism in the Balance” (1938), “The taxing struggle to understand the art of the ‘avant-garde’ . . . yields such subjectivist distortions and travesties that ordinary people who try to translate these atmospheric echoes of reality back into the language of their own experience, find the task quite beyond them” (57). Over the past eighty years, this claim has been subject to withering criticism. A lot of this criticism, I...

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